Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

My husband John’s illness progressed, and self-care became harder. I felt like I was playing a bad game of catch-up. No matter how hard I tried, I never caught up with caregiving tasks, and there were always unchecked items on my to-do list. I wondered if I’d make it through the day.

When I was alone and honest with myself, I worried about burnout. Burnout can take years to develop. The caregiver’s feelings progress from enthusiasm (when they are first hired), to stagnation (too much work, too little time), to frustration (not being able to do the work), and finally, apathy (the result of exhaustion).

Even trained, dedicated health care workers are subject to burnout. I could be at risk of burnout or compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a form of burnout—physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. Unlike burnout, which develops slowly, compassion fatigue comes on quickly. It happens when someone cares too much.

Controlling and Focusing Thoughts

I thought about John all the time and hoped I wouldn’t have compassion fatigue. The holidays put additional pressure on me. I wanted to stop compassion fatigue before it stopped me.

I did this by controlling my thoughts. The idea came from Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. “As soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, let your first thoughts be one of gratitude,” Dr. Sood advises.

The minute my eyes opened in the morning, I thought of someone who helped me. Other names came to mind. Each day, I thought of five people. Five more people the next day, and the next. I had a list of people who were kind, smart, and had my back. The mental exercise caused me to remember people from my past, and I was humbled by their kindness.

A Theme for Each Day

Dr. Sood believes that having a theme for each day of the week helps to reduce stress: Monday: gratitude. Tuesday: compassion. Wednesday: acceptance. Thursday: higher meaning. Friday: forgiveness. Saturday: celebration Sunday: reflection and prayer.

This sounded like a beneficial approach. I followed his advice but did it differently. Since I couldn’t remember all the themes, I chose one I could easily remember: love. This theme meshed with every day of caregiving.

Thinking about love reduced my stress and helped me get through the day. Love reminded me of why I was John’s caregiver. His love helped me find my way through the caregiving maze. The maze had twists, turns, and corners. I would deal with an issue, turn a corner, and another challenge appeared. But there was always love at the end of the day.

Excerpted from Winning: A Story of Grief and Renewal: Hodgson MA, Harriet: 9781608082919: Amazon.com: Books.

Visit Harriet’s website: www.harriethodgson.net.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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